Archive for the Painting Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Paris Doesn’t Exist

Posted in Comics, FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2014 by dcairns

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A frame from PARIS N’EXISTE PAS (1969), Robert Benayoun’s uber-cool art flick about bohemian modern art types, one of whom starts experiencing weird instances of objects moving around the room by themselves — I was reminded of David Bowie’s Berlin period hallucinations of furniture gone walkies, and also Maupassant’s short story What Is It? in which the narrator is plagued by the discovery that ALL furniture enjoys an active life the moment our backs are turned, just like the toys in TOY STORY.

The movie — which somewhat resembles Clouzot’s kinetic art melodrama LA PRISONNIERE from the same period, only without the s&m roleplay and with Serge Gainsbourg, puffing away at a cigarette holder in an invigorating embodiment of the concept of “louche” — could have been merely trendy, with its flash-cuts of cartoon panels to create a kind of cinematic Roy Lichtenstein feel, but I think it has more on the ball than that. Also, it’s fun spotting the cartoons of Hugo Pratt, Charles Schultz et al. I doubt copyright was paid.

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It’s a good film to be watching in my ultramodern flat in Paris, loaned to me by Francoise Ickowitz, grand-daughter of Bernard Natan. Francoise has, I think inherited some of her aunt’s taste — producer Monique Natan, Bernard’s niece, was responsible for producing Alain Jessua’s comic-book murder yarn JEU DE MASSACRE (1967) and Jean Rollin’s LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES (1971), films of bold colour and pop sensibility.

When we interviewed Francoise for NATAN at her apartment – a sensational pop art shagging palace in a penthouse towering over Paris with Bond villain aplomb – we had to carefully frame out all the amazing decor, which was utterly fabulous in a CLOCKWORK ORANGE/Warhol kind of way, but sort of inappropriate as a backdrop for a sombre discussion of her grandfather’s life and death. But it would be worth inventing a whole new film to shoot there just for the interior design and art.

Have you got yours?

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , on November 8, 2014 by dcairns

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My complimentary Complete Tati box set arrived from Criterion! I promptly exploded it all over our crumbling floor and took a photo.

I have a little essay in the booklet, in the august company of James Quandt, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Kristin Ross. This may not be the chunkiest booklet I’ve ever featured in, but thanks to the art of David Merveille, it’s the one that feels most like an actual BOOK. Gorgeous. Tati’s longterm relationship with graphic artists like Lagrange and Etaix makes this the perfect way to go, design-wise. David Merveille is here.

The Complete Jacques Tati [Blu-ray]

Order yours! The distressed floorboards are not included, but you will be one giant step closer to being able to mock up the above image in your own home.

The essay can be read at Criterion’s website, here,  if you’re not into the whole buying thing, but you would be missing unbelievably beautiful transfers of some of the most unbelievably beautiful films ever made, and some terrific extras. After reading the booklet in the bath — to my relief, the essay seemed to hold up, and I wasn’t saying the same stuff as everyone else — I looked at the openings of all three versions of JOUR DE FETE. Definitely the right choice to lead with the original b&w release. There’s a lovely doc about the restoration of the Thomson Colour version, though, a scientific-cinematic detective story. The negative appeared to be black & white, but somewhere in its photochemical makeup was the information to produce colour prints. A nice bit of filmmaking: when the detective finally manages to project a single frame with the colours of 1949 magically recovered, we faintly hear Jean Yatove’s unforgettable theme tune wafting in the distance…

My Tati video essay is here. An earlier Tati essay I did for Criterion is here. And if you’re not sick of the sound of me on this subject yet, I have a piece on Tati’s collaboration with painter-designer Jacques Lagrange in the new Sight & Sound. Voila!

The Man Who Painted the Park

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2014 by dcairns

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The death of production designer Assheton Gorton (last month, but I just recently learned of it) got me thinking about his unique contribution to sixties British cinema. Joe Massot’s WONDERWALL (1968), above, was an early sign of the new decadence, a film made almost entirely to spend the Beatles’ money before the taxman got it, which is not the noblest artistic purpose, but clearly everyone involved wanted to create something beautiful — more beautiful than a hospital ward or a torpedo bay (even a really nice one). And they succeeded.

I do get a ringing alarm bell in films about fantasy versus reality where the filmmakers can’t resist making the reality just as lovely and strange as the fantasy — MIRRORMASK, or THE CELL could be chosen as examples. WONDERWALL has this problem very badly — it plays a little like THE ZERO THEOREM, with its mundane protagonist twisted so far into eccentricity as to become insane and alienating, depriving us of our Dante or Virgil in the labyrinth. Some might argue that BRAZIL is oppressively fantastical too, but that’s the point for me — the reality is desaturated and bluish and oppressive and insistently real, and the fantasy can do its job effectively in such a context. If everything is fairytale, there’s no contrast, and movies love sharp contrasts.

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Whatever the opposite of an everyman protagonist is, Jack MacGowran is it. A kind of “no-man protagonist,” or “notagonist,” if you will. An actor whose quirks and accent and 24hr inebriation can make him fascinating at the same time as incomprehensible and utterly opaque. Apparently on KING LEAR he had no idea what he was saying. The trouble is, neither do I. Whereas, oddly, he seems to totally get Beckett, and makes me feel I do too.

Still, Gorton did a gorgeous job, though some shots are actually little more than beautiful actors in beautiful fabrics and patterns, beautifully lit, with not a wall or piece of furniture in sight.

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Obviously it was BLOW-UP, on which A.G. served as art director, that got him WONDERWALL. I suppose the job title is correct because Antonioni appears to have built no sets, but he transformed locations, painting a street various shades of gray, and even the people in it, so that David Hemmings’s skin becomes the only thing telling you the movie isn’t b&w. Elsewhere, colour is insistent and striking, though Antonioni still prefers a sort of metallic pastel palette, distinguishing his work from the screaming psychedelia that was beginning to explode in reality.

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Famously, Antonioni had Gorton paint a park, because the colours had changed since they location-scouted it and it no longer fitted the scheme. I couldn’t say for sure that the park looks different from a natural one, but I certainly FEEL it does — it seems flatter, more uniform and graphic.

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Aided by overcast English skies, the park becomes a gray-green silhouette — sure, the shrubbery has shadows and weight, but it doesn’t sem to have ENOUGH.

I always felt that, in scenes like the non-sequitur cross-talk purchase of a propeller from an antique shop, Antonioni was influenced by THE KNACK and its Ann Jellicoe-via-Charles Wood script, in which language becomes a kind of infestation, scrambling the characters’ brains and even pouring from their heads in the form of subtitles. Antonioni, working in an unfamiliar language, had the help of Edward Bond, but neither man is what you would call zany and so their attempts at a comedy of word soup floundering tends to fall rather painfully on its keys, but the very discomfort and flatness of it kind of suits the picture.

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In Jellicoe’s play, Tom, the Donal Donnelly character, repaints his room, stripping it of furniture and, I seem to recall, painting the shadows on the wall. And then he drives in a few nails so he can hang the chairs high off the floor. He doesn’t get that far in Richard Lester’s film, and he paints the room a featureless white, so that the various shapes look embossed, like MARIENBAD’s title sequence (Lester was a fan). Certianly Antonioni, who had been repainting reality in THE RED DESERT (1964), must have felt that Gorton was a kindred spirit. He just needed to THINK BIGGER.

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